Note: Even if you can consume dairy products (lactose-free or regular) without getting ill, the recipes in this article will still be helpful if you don’t enjoy milk and need tips to help you drink more.
Sometimes dairy isn’t your friend. This I know on a very personal level since I’ve been following a dairy-free diet for over 3 years now, and most definitely not by choice. Dairy was my favourite food group and I happily consumed it in all its forms, many times each day.
But dairy isn’t always well tolerated by people who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). For many people, it’s the lactose in dairy that’s the issue, so choosing lactose-free or low lactose dairy products can overcome this problem. But for others, it’s the protein in dairy that’s the issue, so adopting a dairy-free diet is the best way to prevent IBS symptoms from being triggered.
When you need to avoid dairy altogether, non-dairy milk alternatives are a handy solution, however not everyone likes the way they taste. Me included. So it’s not surprising that a common question I get asked is “How can I make non-dairy milk taste better?” But before I answer that question, let’s look at how to choose a non-dairy milk.
Why would you want to use non-dairy milk alternatives?
Most people use non-dairy milks because they can’t tolerate regular dairy, but still want to consume some type of milk. For instance, cereal without milk isn’t quite the same. And for others, tea or coffee really needs a dash or more of milk. Milk also has a valuable place in food preparation, including baking, cooking savoury or sweet sauces, or as a base for a drink.
From a nutritional perspective, non-dairy milks are a particularly handy substitute for obtaining calcium. While some other foods do contain calcium, the fact is that dairy products are a much richer source of calcium than almost any other food. So consuming a non-dairy milk alternative that’s fortified with calcium can be helpful to get enough calcium in your day.
Lastly, some people do actually like non-dairy milks. But when it comes to restricted diets, I’ve found that most people who consume non-dairy milks do it because they have to, not because they want to.
Which non-dairy milk alternatives are low FODMAP?
Unfortunately, not all non-dairy milk alternatives are low FODMAP, so if you have to follow a low FODMAP diet, you must choose your milk alternatives very carefully. Of course if you don’t require a low FODMAP diet, you can choose from any of the available options and instead focus on the nutritional content (see next section).
The information in this section is based on data from The Monash University Low FODMAP Diet app that was current at the time of publication.
The following non-dairy milk alternatives are considered to be low FODMAP:
- Almond milk – 1 cup or 250ml serving
- Coconut milk in a long-life UHT pack – 1/2 cup or 125ml serving (Note: a serving of 150ml contains moderate amounts of galacto-oligosaccharides and fructans.)
- Hemp milk – 1 cup or 250ml serving (Note: a serving of 300ml contains moderate amounts of galacto-oligosaccharides.)
- Rice milk – 200ml serving (Note: a serving of 250ml contains high amounts of fructans.)
- Soy milk made from soy protein – 1 cup or 250ml (Note: because this is made from a protein isolate, the galacto-oligosaccharides found in whole soybeans are mostly removed.)
But you must check the ingredient list to avoid other high FODMAP ingredients, particularly inulin, which is often added to milks to give them a better mouthfeel (i.e. to make them taste creamier). Some varieties will contain inulin while others won’t, so check carefully.
The following non-dairy milk alternatives should be avoided on a low FODMAP diet:
- Oat milk – this is only low FODMAP at a serving up to 30ml
- Soy milk made from whole soybeans – even small amounts are moderate to high FODMAP
Which non-dairy milk alternatives are better for you nutritionally?
When choosing a non-dairy milk alternative, there are three things important nutritional considerations (aside from FODMAPs).
1. Calcium content
Non-dairy milks don’t naturally contain calcium, so you first need to select a calcium-fortified variety. But the amount of calcium added to non-dairy milks varies considerably, so an important second step is to compare the amount of calcium in a serving using the nutrition panel.
Regular cow’s milk contains 120mg of calcium per 100ml of milk, so a 1 cup (250ml) serving has 300mg of calcium. Try to choose a non-dairy milk that contains a similar amount of calcium (but that’s also suitable for your personal tolerances).
2. Protein content
Most non-dairy milks are quite low in protein, especially compared to regular cow’s milk that contains around 8g of protein per 250ml serving. The only non-dairy milk alternative with a similar amount is soy milk.
However, protein content isn’t as essential as calcium content since most people consume more protein each day than they require. But if you’re concerned about your current protein intake, you should talk to a nutritionist before trying to bulk up on protein unnecessarily.
3. Sugar content
Many non-dairy milks aren’t naturally very sweet and so have sugar added to them, often more than is really necessary. Aside from the health concerns of excess sugar, it can also make them taste sickly sweet. For this reason, it’s better to choose an unsweetened non-dairy milk alternative and then add a little sugar if necessary – most of the time you’ll add less than the manufacturers do.
Which non-dairy milk alternatives taste the best?
Taste is a very personal thing so there’s no right answer here. When I first switched to non-dairy milks, I preferred the taste of rice milk, although it’s also fair to say that I detested rice milk and only consumed it for the calcium or to make a recipe work. My preferred brand at the time was Vitasoy original rice milk.
When I started the low FODMAP diet, I switched to almond milk since I prefer to consume more in a single serving than the safe allowance of 200ml rice milk. While I never enjoyed rice milk, I absolutely cannot stand sweetened almond milks, so I only ever drink the unsweetened stuff. But I do often add 1 tsp of sugar to 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, which is about half the sugar that sweetened almond milk contains. While I still can’t say I enjoy almond milk, I’ve learned to tolerate Almond Breeze unsweetened vanilla (or coconut) flavoured almond milk and Vitasoy unsweetened almond milk.
But here’s the most important thing to understand… none of the non-dairy milks taste the same as regular milk. So when you first try them, be prepared for a very different flavour and generally a much thinner milk. Also be prepared for it to take a while for you to learn to tolerate it.
Tips for making non-dairy milk taste better
There are two ways to encourage consumption of non-dairy milks when you don’t like the flavour (which also applies to regular milk if you can consume it but don’t enjoy it):
- Use them in cooking where the flavour can’t be detected, e.g. to cook porridge, in baked goods, etc.
- Add flavours that will cover up the taste of the milk so that you find it more palatable.
Kitchen Tip: Be careful not to overheat non-dairy milks because they can split and become unusable, with no way of saving them. Instead, heat them slowly in the microwave (or a saucepan) until you know how long it takes to get them warm enough for your liking, while not overheating. I find that in my microwave, 1 mug of cold almond milk needs 1 min and 45 sec, while 1 mug of cold rice milk needs 2 minutes.
Here’s some easy recipes for ‘milk drinks’ that you might like to try
Heat 1 cup of milk in the microwave, then mix in 1 tsp of cocoa and 1 tsp of sugar. Sometimes I also add a sprinkle of cinnamon or mixed spice, or even a few drops of peppermint essence to further cover the flavour. A dash of brandy (on occasion) can really lift it too.
This sounds a bit weird, but it’s surprisingly good. Heat 1 cup of milk, then mix in 1 tsp of golden syrup. This works best with the vanilla unsweetened almond milk. Don’t overdo the golden syrup though or it can taste a bit metallic.
Milky Coffee or Iced Coffee
A milk-based coffee can be drunk either hot or cold. To 1 cup of (warm or cold) milk, mix in 1 tsp of instant coffee and 1 tsp of sugar.
Blend 1 cup of milk with either 1 medium banana, or 1/2 a banana + 1/4 to 1/3 cup of berries, or 1/2 banana + 1/2 cup rockmelon or honeydew melon. Also blend in 1 tablespoon of peanut butter to boost the protein (and for flavour). Because of the fruit, you don’t need to add extra sugar, even with unsweetened milks. This drink also makes an excellent afternoon or morning snack because it’s quite filling.
Strawberry Chocolate Milk